Developer Faces More Hurdles

Council Insists on Traffic Study at Cobblestone

BLYTHEWOOD – After more than seven months of wrangling with Town Council over the proposed rezoning of Cobblestone Park, last week developer D.R. Horton made concessions that appeared to be the last major hurdles to amend the zoning map. Last month Town Council sent the rezoning request back to the Planning Commission for further discussion. While the Planning Commission did not seem anxious, as the Council had been, to impose a traffic study on the new project, as a result of their discussions, D.R. Horton agreed to drop its request for R-4 zoning and model homes near the gated entrance of Cobblestone Park and to leave the previously requested R-4 area as a permanent open or green space for the neighborhood. Councilman Eddie Baughman had said last month that he felt that if the developer would concede on the R-4 zoning and model homes at the entrance to the neighborhood, everyone would feel better about the proposed rezoning.

At a work session Tuesday, however, Town Council members gave the developer another mountain to climb – a laundry list of new reasons why the developer should have a traffic study conducted for Syrup Mill Road, which borders the development and will accommodate some of the neighborhood traffic, primarily that of the new Primrose Section, on to Blythewood Road.

The developer has maintained that a traffic study would not be needed since, under the proposed zoning, it is actually reducing the number of units it plans to build in the neighborhood by 506. The developer’s representative, Tom Margle, has said the developer gave in to the Council’s demands in order to move the project forward in a timely manner. Margle said that without the rezoning, he didn’t know “how much longer D.R. Horton can continue to fund the deficit of the Home Owners Association with the clubs, common areas, open space and private roads. It’s a very large ticket.”

Planning Commissioner Malcolm Gorge, speaking in favor of a traffic study, said he felt precedent had already been set citing the two neighborhoods and school that feed on to Turkey Farm Road with accelerating and decelerating lanes.

Town Administrator Gary Parker took a harder line, suggesting that under the Town’s Traffic Impact Study (TIS) Guidelines a TIS is required of the developer.

“To my knowledge,” Parker said, “a study has never been done at any time for this subdivision since its inception.”

Parker also said he had contacted the S.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) and, “I was advised that they recommend a TIS for Syrup Mill and would be glad to meet with the developer to go over that.”

But Margle said the developer’s engineers had already consulted with DOT staff, a number of Richland County road and planning officials, a traffic study consultant and others about the need for a traffic study.

“We explained the reduction of density (dwelling units) in the zoning map amendment, and none of them thought a traffic study would be needed at this time,” Margle said.

He also said that he, too, was concerned about traffic and that he had already set up a meeting prior to the Feb. 23 Town Council meeting with other DOT personnel, the encroachment engineer, the maintenance engineer who would approve the issue and the district engineer. Margle invited the Town’s officials to participate in that meeting, which would most likely be held at DOT headquarters.

“We want to be good stewards,” Margle told the group.

Parker said that even if the DOT has not reached a decision concerning the need for a TIS before the February Council meeting, that a first reading and public hearing could still be conducted. It was not clear, however, if Council would delay second reading until the DOT had reached a decision on the traffic study.

At the beginning of the meeting, Council held an executive session for the purpose of discussing the zoning proposed by D.R. Horton, calling the reason for the session “receipt of legal advice involving matters covered by the attorney-client privilege.”

Mayor J. Michael Ross, who owns a lot in the Primrose section and lives in Cobblestone Park, recused himself from the session and later discussion to comply with a ruling by the S.C. Ethics Commission advising against his participation. Two of the remaining four Council members, also residents of Cobblestone, were not required to recuse themselves from the discussions and voting on the rezoning. That decision was criticized at last month’s Town Council meeting by an attorney representing D.R. Horton.

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